Barbara Fairchild is one of the great lost legends of the countrypolitan era, a subtle singer who's a special favorite of folks who remember her work. Like many country singers, she's best remembered for a novelty hit ("Teddy Bear Song") but she also recorded plenty of great, soul-searching ballads, sung with an unusual emotional punch. Indeed, I find Fairchild to be one of the most distinctive, intriguing singers of her generation... I'm not sure why her work remains so decisively out of print -- perhaps she burned some bridges when she left Nashville? Maybe as a born-again, Christian singer she doesn't want her older, secular stuff available anymore? At any rate, she was one of the greats, but you'd never know it from the official record. Anyway, here's a quick look at her work...
Barbara Fairchild "Classic Country" (Simitar, 1998)
It's pretty amazing that, four decades after her first string of hits, this lone CD is the only reissue of Fairchild's classic recordings on the Columbia label... Not only that, but it's been out of print itself for years and years. Someone's gonna do right by Fairchild sometime, eventually, but the jury's still out whether it will happen while they still make physical albums(!) Anyway, this fourteen-song CD includes the original recordings of her biggest hits, including "Teddy Bear Song," "Baby Doll," "Let Me Love You Once Before You Go," "Mississippi," "Kid Stuff," and others... For more info on the music contained here, check out the album reviews below...
Barbara Fairchild "At Her Best" (Gusto, 2006)
One of those odd offerings that the King/Gusto/Starday people manage to cobble together from various sources. This modest, ten-song disc mostly draws on an album of re-recorded hits, made for the Audiograph label in the early 1980s (see below). It also includes one of the handful of songs she recorded for Kapp Records in 1965, before she found her berth at Columbia. Kind of a random selection, but considering how off-the-radar her work remains, probably one worth looking into.
Barbara Fairchild "Someone Special" (Columbia, 1970) (LP)
(Produced by Billy Sherrill)
The dynamic debut of this fine Arkansas-born singer-songwriter, this was one of her most energetic musical performances, although it did show her very much under the influence of producer Billy Sherrill. In many ways, you can see him treating her as a second-line singer, reworking familiar themes and musical ideas, most notably on composer Jan Crutchfield's song, "A Woman's Hand," which sounds a bit too much like the Tammy Wynette hit, "Stand By Your Man." Still, it's a fun album and Fairchild's voice, which seems equal parts Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, is a treat for hard country fans looking to find an appreciation for the lavish countrypolitan style of the times. A very solid album, which though has its sluggish musical moments, is considerably enlivened by Fairchild's electrifying vocals. Recommended!
Barbara Fairchild "Love's Old Song" (Columbia, 1971) (LP)
Barbara Fairchild "Teddy Bear Song" (Columbia, 1972) (LP)
(Produced by Lou Bradley & Charlie Bragg)
This album (originally titled A Sweeter Love) has Fairchild's biggest career hit, the goofy, cloying "Teddy Bear Song", along with an endless procession of slower and mid-tempo ballads, and some archetypal early '70s sunshine country, songs like "Smile" and "You Make Me Feel Like Singing A Song." These perky ditties join many other Jan Crutchfield compositions, as well as an unlikely (and unimpressive) cover of Don MacLean's "Vincent." This is an okay album, but a little too much on the soft, string-y side, without enough change in tempo to keep many listeners involved. On the other hand, she's a great singer, showing her versatility here on songs where she sometimes sounds like Dolly Parton, and sometimes like Brenda Lee. And who could pass up the opportunity to hear a song called "Old-Fashioned, Ever-Lasting, Foot Stomping Love"? Not me!
Barbara Fairchild "Kid Stuff" (Columbia, 1973) (LP)
(Produced by Jerry Crutchfield)
Another fine album, although the long shadow of Billy Sherrill has been shed, in favor of production by Jan Crutchfield's brother, Jerry. He provides smooth, competent guidance, although admittedly a bit standard-issue for Nashville at the time. It doesn't matter, though: Fairchild's voice, and her sincere, engaged delivery is all that really matters. She really gets into these songs, and once again, even though she seems a little derivative of other singers, she is also a singer who can make you believe in every song she sings. An interesting highlight of this album is her gender-flipped version of "Behind Closed Doors," which is every bit as sexy as the Charlie Rich hit. Less striking is her cover of "Satin Sheets," which again is a fine version, but not really that distinctive. There's a little bit of a kid-related theme to this album, but only on a couple of tunes, and more or less with an ironic edge: on "Baby Doll," she's singing about herself, and how her lover sees her more as a doll than as a woman; other songs have more grown-up themes to them. All in all, a nice example of prime countrypolitan, with a rootsy singer who's work should be better remembered today than it is.
Barbara Fairchild "Love Is A Gentle Thing" (Columbia, 1974) (LP)
Barbara Fairchild "Standing In Your Line" (Columbia, 1974) (LP)
(Produced by Jerry Crutchfield)
Although musically her stuff seemed to be getting goopier, the lyrics on this album are fascinating, with some exemplary feminist (but not too feminist), tough gal lyrics, stuff that goes a little beyond the standard-issue sassy'n'spunky model pioneered by Loretta Lynn. One of the most striking songs on here is "I'm Not Weak, I'm A Woman," in which the protagonist explains that she's crying and sad, but only after she tells Prince Charming to take a hike. Might not sound like much from a modern, post-Dixie Chicks vantage point, but for '74, this was pretty complex material. This also includes one of her big hits, "This Stranger, My Little Girl," about a mother's growing estrangement with her teenage daughter (and a teeny whiff of the generation gap), a tune that several artists recorded, including Loretta Lynn and Dottie West. Fairchild wrote a lot of the material on this album and there's a good case to be made that she was edging into a sort of singer-songwriter turf, not unlike that of some of her pop-oriented contemporaries. Once again, Jerry Crutchfield helmed the board, but you start to get the sense that Fairchild was actually a bit more in charge of this show that may have been the norm at the time. There's some goofy farting around, such as the noodly run-through of the rock oldie, "Kansas City," but mostly this album is remarkably short of filler.
Barbara Fairchild "Barbara Fairchild" (Columbia, 1975) (LP)
Barbara Fairchild "Mississippi" (Columbia, 1976) (LP)
Barbara Fairchild "Free And Easy" (Columbia, 1977) (LP)
Countrypolitan's darker, more Gothic side is on display here. There are no uptempo numbers on here -- it's all one, big wash of moody, somewhat unsettling ballads; some songs are filler, though "She Can't Give It Away" is rather striking -- a harsh look at an over-the-hill party girl, the kind of song Jeannie C. Reilly might have covered, though she woulda done it with more of a go-go bounce.
Barbara Fairchild "This Is Me" (Columbia, 1979) (LP)
Barbara Fairchild & Billy Walker "It Takes Two" (Pair Records, 1980) (LP)
Duets with country crooner Billy Walker...
Barbara Fairchild "The Biggest Hurt" (Audiograph, 1982) (LP)
Barbara Fairchild & Heirloom "Apples Of Gold" (Benson, 1990)
Barbara Fairchild "The Light" (Riversong, 1991)
A gospel album...
Barbara Fairchild "Uncommon Love" (Benson, 1992)
Barbara Fairchild & Heirloom "The Best Of Heirloom" (Riversong, 1993)
Barbara Fairchild "Comedy Classics - Live" (Riverside, 1993)
Barbara Fairchild "The Son In My Eyes" (Benson, 1993)
Barbara Fairchild "Stories" (Chapel Hill, 1995)
Barbara Fairchild & Heirloom "Hymns That Last Forever" (Chapel Hill, 1995)
A Christian vocal group featuring Barbara Fairchild, Sheri Easter, Candy Hemphill Christmas and Tanya Goodman Sykes.
Barbara Fairchild "Rocky Top" (Nashville Clan, 1999)
A secular set of country oldies...
Barbara Fairchild "Then And Now" (2000)
Another secular set...
Barbara Fairchild "All Is Forgiven" (2000)
Barbara Fairchild "For God And Country" (ACA, 2001)
Barbara Fairchild "Forever Friend" (ACA, 2002)
Barbara Fairchild "Wings Of A Dove" (Daywind, 2002)
Barbara Fairchild/Connie Smith/Sharon White "Love Never Fails" (Daywind, 2003)
(Produced by Ricky Skaggs)
A noteworthy Christian country-pop set, with three highly regarded country gals, and strong production assistance from Sharon White's hubby, Ricky Skaggs, who gives this disc a lot more rhythmic ooompf than most albums on this popular Southern Gospel label. I'm a big fan of Connie Smith, and it's always nice to hear her doing something new... She's in fine form, as is Barbara Fairchild, whose voice sounds better than ever, and still has that Dolly Parton-esque timbre to it; it sure would be nice to hear her tackle some nice traditionally-oriented secular material sometime, as long as she could round up a backup band at least as strong as this one (which includes Nash-grass stalwarts such as Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton, among others...) This album is probably too rowdy for most Southern Gospel fans (who really like tinkly pianos and less-twangy vocals), and while it probably won't wow many country listeners, for folks who are fans any of these three singers, this is kind of a treat. Plus, it's certainly a heartfelt performance, with a nice harmony sound among the trio... Very Jesus-y, but the emphasis is on inspiration and self-affirmation, rather than the evangelical side of things, so it may be more accessible to secular listeners. Worth checking out.
Barbara Fairchild "He Kept On Loving Me" (Daywind, 2004)
Hick Music Index